Nepal: UNODC's Regional Dialogue Spurs Transformative Action on Early Access to Legal Aid

Kathmandu, Nepal/27 July 2023: Upholding individuals' rights and promoting fairness in criminal justice systems are pivotal in fostering a just society. Recognizing the significance of timely legal aid, UNODC brought together 34 representatives of relevant national authorities--including the police, legal aid providers and civil society--from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka as well as international experts for a regional dialogue on "Early Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems."

The dialogue focused on advancing fair criminal justice systems by centering their attention on raising awareness about the vital importance of early access to legal aid, with the aim of increasing understanding and recognition of its significance. Participants also exchanged insights on the legislative frameworks in South Asian countries to identify areas for improvement.

Discussions also showcased good practices that promote and enhance legal aid services, with the intention of inspiring replication and adoption across the region. Participants emphasised the need to actively collaborate and strengthen regional cooperation, to establish an inclusive justice system that upholds the principles of fairness and equality for all individuals within the society.

The Attorney General of Nepal, Dr. Dina Mani Pokharel, warmly welcomed UNODC's efforts to fortify justice systems through capacity building, technical expertise, and policy support. "Addressing specific needs of vulnerable groups with community outreach programs has been a key area of our collaboration," he said.

Highlighting the vital role played by lawyers, paralegals, university clinics, and civil society organizations, UNODC's Regional Representative for South Asia, Mr. Marco Teixeira, emphasized that the collective responsibility lies in enhancing legal aid services and ensuring their accessibility to all.

The event fostered knowledge exchange and experiential learning among participants, including representatives from the Nepal Bar Association, Inspector General of Nepal Police, and UNODC experts from Vienna and the region. Together, they explored strategies to augment legal aid services, laying the foundation for a responsive, transparent, and inclusive justice system.

At the conclusion of the event, a resounding recommendation emerged: the establishment of a regional platform to facilitate collaborative endeavors in advancing fair criminal justice systems. UNODC's planned technical assistance for strengthening justice for all in South Asia will be guided by the valuable insights shared during the event.

During his visit to Nepal, Mr. Marco Teixeira also engaged in enriching discussions with the Secretary of Home Affairs and Director-General of Customs of the Government of Nepal. The dialogue aimed to enhance the enduring partnership between UNODC and Nepal, encompassing counter-narcotics efforts, international cooperation, security, and the rule of law.

Mr. Marco Teixeira also presented his credentials to Foreign Minister of Nepal, Mr. Narayan Prakash Saud, underscoring UNODC's commitment to supporting Nepal through its Regional Programme for South Asia. The program stands ready to bolster security, justice, health, and the rule of law in the country.

This activity contributed to SDG 16 and SDG 17: